Psychological conceptions of randomness

Ayton, P., Hunt, A. J., & Wright, G.
Journal of Behavioral Decision Making

This article presents a critique of the concept of randomness as it occurs in the psychological literature. The first section of our article outlines the significance of a concept of randomness to the process of induction; we need to distinguish random and non-random events in order to perceive lawful regularities and formulate theories concerning events in the world. Next we evaluate the psychological research that has suggested that human concepts of randomness are not normative. We argue that, because the tasks set to experimental subjects are logically problematic, observed biases may be an artifact of the experimental situations and that even if such biases do generalise they may not have pejorative implications for induction in the real world. Thirdly we investigate the statistical methodology utilised in tests for randomness and find it riddled with paradox. In a fourth section we find various branches of scientific endeavour that are stymied by the problems posed by randomness. Finally we briefly mention the social significance of randomness and conclude by arguing that such a fundamental concept merits and requires more serious considerations.

The CAUSE Research Group is supported in part by a member initiative grant from the American Statistical Association’s Section on Statistics and Data Science Education